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Stories from French History by  Lena Dalkeith

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A STORY IN PRAISE OF JEANNE D'ARC, THE MAID OF ORLEANS

Most of which is taken from the Ancient Chronicles written down at her trial and Afterwards.

[53] THIS right marvellous and true tale begins in the year of Our Lord 1424, when Jeanne was but thirteen years old.

A fine, tall maid was she, strong and shapely in body, fair of face, sweet and gentle in manner, but of a keen wit and humour withal. She lived in the little village of Domremy, which stood then outside the fair Kingdom of France, close on the borders of the Duchy of Burgundy.

The good folks of Domremy, however, were all for France. They hated and despised the Burgundians because the Bur- [54] gundians sided with the English against France, and every one knows how at that time the French feared and hated the English more than any in the world.

And they had good cause for their fear, I warrant you. For many a black year the English army had wandered over France, fighting capturing, and pillaging wherever they went, and never losing a battle. So that at last the French had lost courage. It seemed to them that, however well they fought, the English had the best of it.

Besides, the French had no real, true crowned King of their own to lead them. Some years before Jeanne was born, an English King had married a French Princess. Some of the French nobles had foolishly promised that if a son should be born of the marriage, he should inherit the throne of France. No in this they did great wrong, sinning in loyalty against Charles the Dauphin, son of their dead King.

He, the true heir to the throne, must therefore wonder from town to town through [55] France with a few courtiers, fleeing the English or fighting them, as best seemed fit; and not only was he in danger from the English who had vowed to conquer France, but also from the Burgundians, who were their allies.

Moreover, this poor prince had scarce money enough to pay his boot-maker, and, worse trouble than all, there were many even among his own Court who doubted if he were in truth the real son of the King. Even his own mother, who sided with the Burgundians, would speak no word in his favour, so that Charles, doubtful himself and very miserable, sometimes wondered if he had not better give up all hope and flee to Spain, leaving France in the hands of the English.

One day he went apart by himself and sorrowfully prayed to God in his heart (speaking no word of the prayer aloud, mark you), to let him know by some clear sign whether he had a royal right to the throne of France or whether he had none.

And now, hear ye awhile of the Blessed [56] Maid who was to save France from the hands of her enemies. As has already been made known to you, the story begins in her thirteenth year, when she first heard the commands of God spoken through the voice of the Archangel Michael.

It happened in summer, while she walked in her father's garden. It was noontide and very warm. As she walked, Jeanne thought of many things—of the race she had won running with her comrades that day, of the poor soldier who had come back from the war sore wounded and sorrowful. Jeanne, little maid as she was, felt a great pity in her heart for the fair land of France. She longed to do something to help. On a sudden, before her, upon the right side, between her and the church, she saw a bright and radiant light, which dazzled her eyes so they were blinded for a space. Presently when she had become more used to the light and dared to look again, she saw an angel's face appearing through the wondershine, and heard a voice which [57] said: "Jeanne, the Lord God hath chosen thee to save France."

"Alas!" cried the maid, "how may I save our beautiful France who am but a poor village girl who tends sheep? How can such as I lead forth soldiers to war?"

Be a good girl," said the angel; and again, "Be a good girl, little Jeanne," and then he went away.

Now you may believe this or not as you will, every one hath a right to his own opinion; nevertheless this story is true. Strange, marvellous as it may appear, Jeanne's word has been proved true a hundred times over, despite all her enemies could do; and this that I have told you is almost word for word what she told her cruel judges about the first coming of the angels.


[Illustration]

SHE SAW AN ANGEL'S FACE APPEARING THROUGH THE WONDER-SHINE

Jeanne wept when the light vanished and she heard the voice no more. But after that she tried harder than ever to be good. And the light came again and other angels, St. Catherine and St. Margaret, whom she loved above all the saints. Sometimes she [58] saw them and touched them, but more often she heard them speak, and ever the words they spoke were to the same end. "Jeanne, be good, and thou shalt save France."

To herself Jeanne called them "My Voices," or "My Counsel," but to her father and friends in Domremy she breathed never a word of what had happened her until later.

Meanwhile matters grew worse in France, and when Jeanne was scarcely seventeen years old the voices became more urgent. They began to tell her what to do. "Go into France, Jeanne," they said; "it is time."

And one day they told her that she must rescue the town of Orleans, for it was in great danger. Orleans was the only town in France which remained true to the Dauphin; if the Dauphin lost it, he lost all France with it.

Then the voices told Jeanne how she was to reach Orleans, and she obeyed them in all things. This is what she did. She left her father and her mother and her home— [59] remember it was by God's command that she went, and He gave her strength and courage to do it. She left Domremy and journeyed to Vaucouleurs, a strong embattled town loyal to France and not far from Domremy.

There she went straight to Robert de Baudricourt, the captain of the town, and told her story, how by the command of God she was come to save France. Baudricourt, as you may believe, laughed at her, refusing to believe a word she said.

"A foolish, dreaming girl," he said; "turn her away."

But she came again to him, saying earnestly, "To-day the gentle Dauphin hath great hurt from the town of Orleans, and yet greater will he have if you do not send me to him."

Now, the day on which Jeanne told the captain this was the twelfth of February, she being informed by her voices; and on the twelfth of February the Dauphin was defeated with great loss by the English at the battle of Rouvray.

[60] A few days later, for tidings came but slowly in olden times, news was brought to Baudricourt of the battle and of the Dauphin's loss. Baudricourt, remembering Jeanne's words, and wondering greatly, began to believe in this strange maid and her high mission. He told her he was ready to do what she asked of him.

Obeying the voices, she begged for a grey doublet, black hose, and horse, and an escort. So, clad like a boy, riding upon a great horse and accompanied by a knight, a squire, and four men-at-arms, Jeanne set out for Chinon, where the Dauphin then was.

They rode far and fast and at last came to Chinon, where Jeanne was lodged with a kindly dame who took good care of her. Already word of her coming and of her strange daring and confidence had gone forth over the land. Yet most men scoffed, crying: "How shall a slight girl stand up against these terrible English?"

On the second day after Jeanne's coming to Chinon, the Prince received her in spite [61] of all his courtiers could say to prevent him. These nobles of his court were afraid lest the girl might unsettle the Prince and so disturb their pleasure. Not one believed there was a word of truth in her story.

When the maid was brought into the hall of the castle where the King had his court, she beheld a crowd of gallant-looking men, and women clad in rich and splendid dress. Before she came in, the Dauphin had given his mantle to a courtier in exchange for a simple cloak, and he stood among his nobles as one of them.

Every one expected the maid to fall on her knees before the courtier, who wore the King's gorgeous mantle. Jeanne did no such thing. Paying no heed to any one, nay, looking at no one but the true Dauphin, she went straight to him and, kneeling, said:

"This is the fair Prince to whom I am sent."

"Nay, I am not the Dauphin," answered the Prince, wishing to try her further.

"If you are not he," answered Jeanne, [62] "then my voices have betrayed me, and that could not be. My voices have shown me that you are the Prince whose kingdom I must save, and whom I shall crown at Rheims before the year be out."

"Ah me, if that might be!" Charles said wistfully.

"It shall be," answered the maid. "Give me an audience alone for a few moments, gentle Dauphin, and you shall believe me."

Wondering at this strange girl, the Dauphin later spoke with her alone, and what she told him he told a friend long afterwards, when he was old. Jeanne herself would never tell what passed between them, not even when they tortured her on her trial. It was the Dauphin's secret, and she kept it faithfully.

We, who have read what the Dauphin said, know that Jeanne told him that God had answered his secret, silent prayer, and sent her to assure him that he was the true and rightful heir to the throne of France, the eldest son of the dead King, the prince whom she had been sent to crown.

[63] What could Charles do but believe this holy, heaven-sent maid? Nevertheless, to make quite sure, he sent her to Poitiers, there to be questioned and examined by wise bishops and priests. These clever men did their best to find out all about Jeanne. They questioned and they questioned, and not one single false word could they accuse the maid of having spoken. Her answers were often so simple, so witty, so wise, that they marvelled daily. All their questioning and Jeanne's answers were written down in a book, and they can be read unto this day.

In six weeks they sent Jeanne back to the King, and this was their judgment: "The maid is good and true. Believe in her."

After this, Charles began to do more what Jeanne told him to do. He set about gathering together an army for her; he had white armour made for her (for she always wore the dress of a boy until the day of her death), and a shield and a banner.

When he would have given her a sword, [64] she refused, bidding them send to a certain chapel named after St. Catherine, in which she said the sword lay buried which was for her use. When they obeyed her, sure enough, they found an old rusty sword there, with five crosses upon it. This she wore always, but used rarely even in battle, so gentle was she, so much did she dislike to take away life.

The French soldiers were all very eager to follow this new and strange girl-captain. She roused all the courage there was in them, for they believed that she and she only could lead them triumphantly against the English. But although the whole army loved her, and she it, Jeanne was a very strict, stern captain. She would allow no feasting, no drinking, no swearing, even among her generals.

When the soldiers were all ready, Jeanne, obeying her voices, led them straight to Orleans, which was by this time in very great danger from the English.

On the 29th of April 1422, the French army had passed the enemy's lines and [65] entered Orleans. Perhaps dates of battles are not very interesting things to you, but mark you this, if you would understand something of the glory of the maid. As a general no one could match her, and as for her skill in using cannon, no one could surpass it.

The French reached Orleans on the 29th of April, upon a Friday. Upon the Wednesday afterwards, that is, upon the 4th of May, Jeanne led out her men and took one of the English forts called St. Loup.

Upon the second day after that she took the fort of St. Augustine, and on the next Sunday she fought again, and so fiercely, that the English retired in dismay. Orleans, after its long siege, was saved.

The English were not only vexed at being defeated, but they were sore ashamed that the victory had been won by a woman. "She must be a witch," the soldiers said; and at the thought of fighting a witch the courage of even the bravest of them failed.

It had been easy for them to fight the [66] French before this, because the French had been so often defeated that they did not fight well; but now with their beloved maid to lead them in her shining armour, they were foes of very different metal.

Orleans now safe, Jeanne wanted to take the Dauphin to Rheims and crown him. As you very likely know, no King of France was thought to be a real king until he had been crowned at Rheims and anointed with the Holy Oil that was kept there for that purpose.

But to reach Rheims many towns had to be recaptured from the English, and the Dauphin was not over anxious to go. Now from the beginning the voices had warned Jeanne that she had only a year's time in which to do all that she had to do; and that year dated from May 1429. This she told the Dauphin over and over again, hoping to rouse him to come with her to Rheims.

But the Dauphin was surrounded by lazy courtiers who did not want to move, being very comfortable where they were, and all the Dauphin did was to summon Council [67] after Council to consider what should be done. Jeanne grew tired of waiting.

"I have four things to do," she said. "To drive the English in flight from our country, to deliver the Duke of Orleans who is their prisoner, to crown the King at Rheims, and to raise the siege of Orleans. This last is done. Now must we fight our way to Rheims."

The Dauphin had made her waste one month of her precious year. So she set out without him and defeated the famous English general, Talbot, at Pathay, on an open battlefield. Even then it was hard to make the Dauphin move; even though Jeanne told him that all the cities, instead of fighting, would open their gates to him.

When at last he did begin the march, Charles found the Maid's words were true. With little or no trouble he came to Rheims, to the great joy of all France.

On the 17th of July, Jeanne with a great and fair company of noble knights brought the King along the streets of Rheims to the beautiful Cathedral. He entered with much [68] pomp and splendour to the sound of singing, and then with much rejoicing the Archbishop anointed and crowned the Dauphin King of France.

Jeanne, as she knelt to do the King homage and swear the oath of fealty, wept for very joy. Two of her high tasks were done. Soon she would perform the rest and be free at last to go back to her own little village and see her father and mother again. That was what she longed to do more than anything else in the world, but first her duty must be done.

King Charles now asked her what reward he could give her, to which she answered: "Fair King, I would that the people of my village should be freed from the paying of taxes for three hundred years'; and the King said, "So it shall be," and he caused to be written on the books of the accounts of the villages after the name of Domremy and of the village next to it:

"Nothing, for the sake of the Maid."

As they rode from the Cathedral, the [69] Archbishop asked Jeanne if she feared anything.

"Nought but treachery," she answered.

Alas and alas! how shall I tell of the treachery that worked against her ever after that glorious day at Rheims?

Unwitting of it, she rode to Paris, which was in the hands of the Burgundians, the allies of the English.

"We must take Paris," quoth she, "and when Paris is ours, all France will be ours, and I shall go home to Domremy and be happy again." Jeanne's words would have come true had she been allowed her own way, but she was not.

The weak Dauphin let his lazy favourites persuade him to do as they wanted, so that instead of hurrying to help the Maid lay siege to Paris, he loitered with his army at this town or that on the way, and when he at last came to Paris, it was too late, for the English had brought up an army to help their allies.

Jeanne, meanwhile, had been attacking the walls bravely and had done good work. [70] Every day she led out her men, and from dawn to night-time they fought in the trenches. It was wonderful to hear the noise of the guns and culverins from the walls.

When Charles with his soldiers at last showed themselves, the Maid was full confident they could storm the city. But she relied on the King's army to help, and again the King failed her, for hearing that she was wounded, he sent word of command to her to stop the fighting.

Very, very reluctantly, and sad at heart, she obeyed. The next day, however, she and her friend, the Duke of Alençon, who has told us many of her doings, made ready again to fight, for Jeanne's wound was slight. Again came word from the King forbidding them to begin. More than that, he ordered a bridge to be destroyed which Jeanne had caused to be built, so that she could cross the river Seine the very next day and attack Paris from another quarter.

You can picture to yourself how dis- [71] appointed Jeanne and her eager soldiers were; their plans spoilt, their hopes of victory crushed by this timid King, whose word they must obey. And worse was to come; for Charles, hoodwinked by evil counsellors and anxious for peace, would not let Jeanne fight again for six long months.

The Maid's heart nigh broke, and all her generals and soldiers mourned with her. So they waited while the foolish King tried to make peace with the Duke of Burgundy, who was only the Governor of Paris because the English wanted him to be.

So the year 1429, which might have meant so much more to France had the Maid been let alone to do as she willed, passed away, and the next year, 1430, wore on to spring. You will remember that Jeanne's year finished in May 1430. The time was very near. The voices which had all the time spoken and counselled Jeanne in all that she did, now spoke to her again, but they gave her little cheer.

"It needs must be that you shall be [72] taken prisoner before Midsummer Day," said they. "But do thou be of good cheer and God will send you help."

Jeanne's heart sank within her and she grew afraid. She prayed to God that she might die in battle rather than be taken prisoner. She knew too well that the English would tie her to a stake and burn her to death if they once could capture her; for the English firmly believed she was a witch, and it was the custom to burn witches in those days.

Nevertheless, in spite of her great fear, in spite of hearing the same dreadful words from the voices over and over again, Jeanne went out to fight when she could, as bravely as of old; and of the many brave and noble deeds this is thought to be the bravest and the noblest thing she did, for she went out to fight in a very different way from before.

Before this, the voices had warned her of danger, had told her what to do, ana had guided her to victory. Now they were silent; they let her act as she would, and [73] they never told her the day or the hour when she was to be captured.

And so Jeanne, instead of taking the lead, took the advice of her captains and generals. It was the best she could she for she was never sure of victory, as had always been before.

One day news came that the good city of Compiegne, which was loyal to France, had been laid siege to by a great army of English and Burgundians. Jeanne, who loved that city, at once set out to its rescue, and with only a few hundred men in her company she rode into the town under cover of night.

The people received her with great joy, for wherever Jeanne went she brought hope and joy. This was on the dawn of the 23rd day of May 1430. At five o"clock in the morning she led out her men to the attack, hoping to surprise the enemy. So she did, driving them back twice; and then (alas! that this must be told) up came the main body of the enemy to help the Burgundians. They forced Jeanne to fall [74] back towards the city. Before she and her little troop could reach the gates, up rushed the English between her and the bridge that leads into Compiegne.

The fear in Jeanne's heart grew. Bravely she spurred her horse up the raised causeway, and leaped into the meadow below. There she was at once surrounded by the Burgundians, who called her to surrender. "Never!" she cried, hoping they would kill her on the spot. But this they were not likely to do, for Jeanne was worth a large sum of money to her captors. Either King Charles would ransom her, or they could sell her to the English, who would give much to get this Maid into their hands.

And now you must hear of Jeanne's troubles even to their cruel end. This gentlest, noblest, bravest maid that ever lived in all the world was sold to the English. The King of France, whom she had crowned, made no effort to save her. The English bought her and, having done so, gave her into the hands of the French priests, who were on their side, so she [75] might be tried by them for being a witch and a heretic, a worker of magic, and many other horrible things, none of which were true.

She was brought to her trial at Rouen, where no mercy was ever shown to her by her enemies. The greatest of these was Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais. Some day, when you are old enough, you can read if you will the whole account of the trial, which was written down at that time, and has since been translated into English.

You will see how bravely the Maid stood up against an army of bishops, priests, and lawyers, all questioning her, all waiting to find fault with her answers and make them out to be lies. You will read how they tortured her to try and make her confess that her voices were the voices of devils, and not of angels.

They could do nothing with her. She told her story simply and truthfully, and the voices helped her many a time to out-wit her captors. Yet there came a time [76] even when they seemed to have left her and she stood alone. Once in her darkest hour she denied having heard the voices, but very quickly she repented and never lost courage again.

Always they tormented her over the boy's dress she wore by command of the voices, and it was the wearing of the boy's dress which gave those cruel and malicious priests the excuse for Condémning her to death.

They said that she committed a sin against God by so doing, and yet would give her no chance to change, and by a cruel act of treachery they Condémned her to death.


[Illustration]

IN THE MARKET-PLACE AT ROUEN THEY BURNED HER TO DEATH AT THE STAKE

In the market-place at Rouen they burned her to death at the stake upon May the 24th, 1431. One whole year had she lain in prison for her trial, and she was only nineteen years old when she died.

They put eight hundred soldiers around the stake for fear any one should try to save her, and on her brow they set a paper cap, on which was written, "Heretic, Relapsed, Apostate, Idolatress?

[77] Lightly the true Maid went to her cruel death, and gladly she died, bowing her head and calling on the name of Jesus, and the English threw her ashes into the sea so men should forget her. How could they think men should forget such a Maid. The whole world owes her reverence now, for no more beautiful spirit ever lived on earth.

In the town of Orleans now every eighth of May they hold a feast in her honour, while many a town has its statue of her. Her fair name has been cleared, for some time after her death there was another trial. Every one who knew her came to testify to her truth and goodness, so that even in her own age men had some dim idea of doing justice to her memory.

As for the English after their cruel burning of Jeanne, nothing prospered with them in France. They were driven back again to England, with no least chance of ever winning again the Crown which by right belonged to the Kings of France.


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